A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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Year in Review 2014


yearinreview2014

If I had to pick a word to describe this year it would be Cycle. In 2013, I spent a lot of time focused on writing and sending out publications, which culminated in 7 published poems. This year, I fell into a poetry funk after June and didn’t write much. What surprised me was that I wasn’t too worried about not writing. After finishing my MFA, I was so concerned about not writing at the same level I did when I was in graduate school. But I quickly realized that creating 4-5 poems a month was a ridiculous writing schedule and settled into a more reasonable writing rhythm. The thing with rhythm is that it can change. And it should change to make things interesting.

Even though my writing slowed down, I still managed to keep poetry a part of my life. Toward the end of the year, I made a conscious effort to go back to the basics—poetry events, workshops, and open mics—because I always get inspired when I am around other poets and hear their work.  This year’s highlights reveal much more poetry in my life than I thought had been there.

January: Returned to Puerto Rico for the 4th VCFA residency as the Graduate Coordinator. Living Poetry‘s 5th anniversary party. Interview with Ian Bodkin’s Written in Small Spaces.

February: Wrote more poems for 14 words of love. Guest Poetry Editor for When Women Waken’s Power Issue. Moderated the panel, “Uncovering Hip-Hop Poetry” at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) in Seattle.

March: First time I attended the Poet’s Café @ Gather in Cary.

April: Wrote 30 poems for the April 2014 Poem-a-Day Challenge. Coordinated three poetry events at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences during Earth Month, including a Poetry on Demand booth and poetry based on a Science Talk.

May: Organized the third Poetry Scope event featuring poetry about science. Wrote a commissioned poem for a birthday, Camellia. Three poems featured in Luna Luna Magazine.

June: Attended 19th Cave Canem retreat, my third and last time.  Wrote at the Poetry on Demand booth at the Chatham Farmer’s Market.

July: First poetry date with Kelly Lenox. Conducted a 10-minute poetry workshop to kick off the Summertime Reading Series at the Carrboro ArtsCenter. First time I attended the LIT 101 open mic at Francesca’s Dessert Café in Durham. Published in When Women Waken’s Knowing Issue.

August: Attended the informal tribute to Maya Angelou at the Carrboro ArtsCenter. Signed the contract with Hyacinth Girl Press to publish my chapbook, My Mother’s Child.

September: First poet to read at this year’s Spark After Dark during poetrySpark! Led a poetry workshop, Revision Toolbox. First time I attended Two Writers Walk Into a Bar, a reading series featuring poetry and prose writers.

October: Attended the NC Literary Hall of Fame induction and the West End Poetry Festival. Saw the Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco at NC State. Guest Poetry Editor for When Women Waken’s Delight Issue.

November: Emceed the tribute to Maya Angelou sponsored by the Friends of the Orange County Public Library, Friends of the Carrboro Public Library, the Friends of Chapel Hill Public Library, and the Friends of The ArtsCenter of Carrboro. Attended the North Carolina Writer’s Network conference in Charlotte.

December: Wrote a poem for friend’s graduation.


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Poetry Dates


Tuesday nights have become my date night with fellow poet, Kelly Lenox. We hail from the same MFA program, though we finished 5 years apart. It was Kelly who first proposed the idea to met on a regular basis to exchange work. In the past, I participated in critique groups that met either face-to-face or via email on either a weekly or monthly basis. Often the quality of feedback depended on the people who showed up, how much time each person spent with the poem, and whether they were able to articulate something more than their like/dislike of a particular part of the poem.

The idea of a dyad exchange intrigued me because I knew Kelly was a good reader of my work and I enjoyed reading her work. Also trying to get 2 schedules to mesh is way easier than 4 or 5, even if you use Doodle. In the beginning, Kelly and I would either exchange poems for critique or read and discuss a poem that WOWed us. Recently, we added a few poetry-related events like going to NC State to see the inaugural poet Richard Blanco promote his new memoir and going to Two Writers Walk Into a Bar on the second Tuesday of the month to hear local poets and prose writers read their work. We’ve even had time to write from one of the Living Poetry Monday poetry prompts when we didn’t have anything to share.

Richard Blanco on poetry date night


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Summer in Review


It’s been a jammed-packed 80 days since I last posted to the blog. It was only after this data guru did the numbers that I realized there was a balance between literary events and non-literary work that kept me busy the whole time.

June

  • Cave Canem Retreat (June 15-22). My third and final time at this retreat for African-American poetry. We had an awesome lineup of faculty: Chris Abani, Tim Siebles, Patricia Smith, and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon joined the founders, Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady. Not to mention the coolest graduation party ever.
  • Selected Poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. I landed at the RDU airport and drove straight to the book club for this Russian poet.
  • Lead a poetry exercises as part of the Carrboro ArtsCenter Summer Reading kickoff event.

CC class of 2014

July

August

  • Picked up a few new books at a book swap.
  • LIT 101. A relatively new open mic at Francesca’s Dessert Café in Durham happens every Third Sunday.
  • Third Thursday Open Mic in Fuquay Varina. I’m only able to attend this event once or twice a year and couldn’t resist participating in the Red Dress contest.
  • Carrboro ArtsCenter sponsored a Maya Angelou tribute reading, where people shared their favorite poems in her memory.

summer books 2014

September

sparkafterdark 2013

Throughout the summer, I met four times for the poetry one-on-ones with Kelly, submitted to one poetry contest and one anthology, and signed the contract with Hyacinth Girl Press for my chapbook, My Mother’s Child, due in early 2015.

As a double-life poet, all poetic activity takes place on the backdrop of the non-literary career, which kept its own busy schedule:

  • 1 project that I led,
  • 1 project started in June,
  • 1 subcommittee started in September,
  • 19 days of working late,
  • 3 days working on the weekend, and
  • 1 report completed in September but that will be presented in October.

In the interest of transparency, most of the summer was filled with all kinds of activity on the personal side including:

  • 4 parties,
  • 3 weddings,
  • 3 houseguests,
  • 9 milongas,
  • 3 road trips, and
  • my first mammogram

charleston

And today, I give a workshop on revision, so I’ll have more to say about that soon!


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A September to Remember


As the government is shutting down, I am emerging from one of the busiest months for work and poetry. My last post gave a snapshot of my schedule for the first week of September and outlined all the events I had on the calendar. I had planned to take a break from tango classes and didn’t know whether work or poetry would fill that void. Now I know the answer—a little bit of both. Here are some of the highlights:

Blackberry Literary Magazine (Tuesday, September 1, 2013): This month’s issue diverged from the usual theme-related writing to display an eclectic mix of poems and fiction from African American female writers, including two of my Cave Canem poems and a work-related poem, “Sighting: Mother”, “There is a Graveyard in My Belly”, and “Tuesday Morning Rain.”

Tuesday Morning Rain

The VCFA alumni gathering (Friday, September 6, 2013): What a great turnout of prospective students, current students, and alumni at Nantucket Grill in Chapel Hill. It was good to connect and reconnect to VCFA alum and interact with other creatives. The only glitch: the name badges and promotional materials sent from Vermont to my work address didn’t arrive until Tuesday. Obviously, the US Postal Service doesn’t believe poetry and work should mix.

PT's VCFA badge

The Music-Shanks Wedding (Saturday, September 7, 2013): I was honored to be asked to write a poem for the occasion. The couple are filmmakers and the poem used The Wizard of Oz as an extended metaphor for finding love. “And by Good Glinda’s grace you stand today, with your brain, courage, and heart  in tact, those ruby-red slippers ready to click.”

Wedding poem

Poetry book club – ee cummings (Sunday, September 8, 2013): There were only two of us, but we spent the entire two hours reading and discussing selections from The Complete Poems of ee cummings, 1914-1962. We listened to cummings reading his work and winced because his voice was full of the Unitarian minister who raised him rather than the whimsical verse he wrote. This poem is my new favorite poem.

the sky was luminous

poetrySpark’s Spark After Dark Erotic Poetry and Burlesque show (Thursday, September 12, 2013): After a full week of writing a work report, I took the stage with 25 other poets and performers for the event that kicked off SparkCon. The standing-room-only crowd was an eager audience for “some dirty poetry”, and someone handed me a rose when I was done.

Spark after Dark

poetrySpark’s  Poetry on Demand booth (Saturday, September 14, 2013): What do you get when you take 9 poets and sit them in a booth to write poems in 3 minutes for a dollar a piece for over 4 hours? $167 dollars, that’s what! Plus some of the craziest words—triskaidekaphobia, kookaburra, honorificabilitudinitatibus, coprophagia, apotheosis, and smook (invented word for whipped cream). Fortunately, my colleague gave me a normal word as a prompt. Note: the spelling errors are hers, not mine. 😉

Swordfighting

Passion: A Salon of Music, Dance, Theater, and Cabaret (Friday, September 20, 2013): After another full week of writing a work report, I stood on different stage, this time for a three-minute “modern dance duet with a tango feel to it.” No one has posted pictures from the event, but we got a good pre-show write up in the Daily Tar Heel.

National Legislative Program Evaluation Society Fall Professional Development Seminar (Sunday, September 22 to Wednesday, September 25, 2013): Over 130 individuals representing over 20 states met in Austin, Texas for the annual meeting of legislative audit and program evaluation staff. And though we would like to believe that the sessions on retaining staff, using graphics, and tracking recommendation results were most memorable, what’s burned in our minds is the image of men kissing giraffes at the Texas Disposal System Exotic Game Ranch.  Even better, I got to dance tango with the Austin community on Saturday and Tuesday and add to my ever-growing collection of college paraphernalia.

Giraffe at "The Dump" Halloween at UT Austin

UNC Davis Library (Sunday, September 29, 2013): After a 60+ hour work week and the Living Poetry organizer’s meeting, I stopped by one of my favorite writing spaces in the Triangle (what I call the Poet’s Gym) to pick up three books by Rachel Wetzsteon, including her posthumous collection, Silver Roses.

Rachel Wetzsteon


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Poetry Scope: Another Success!


dp-globeLast Thursday, Living Poetry organized another evening of science through the lens of poetry for the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. The first event occurred in January and I posted about how the idea was born on the DRX bus ride from Durham to Raleigh.

Given my lessons learned from the first event, I decided to organize the second time around a little differently:

  • Broadened the “Call for Poems”: The first time  was a LP members only event so this time I posted the call for science-related poems to NC Writer’s Network and the NC Poetry Society. Two of the poets selected learned about the event from these sources.
  • Let the poets explain the connection to science: Adding this requirement to the submission helped me select a range of science topics, which (as I learned from last time) is what the museum folks like. This time the poems covered  cancer, cicadas, matter/anti-matter, thermodynamics, and Nikola Tesla.
  • Relished in my organizer role: Last time, I organized the event and read a poem, which meant I couldn’t relax or take pictures. This time I made a conscious decision not to submit. My work for the evening ended once the recording started. I was able to eat, drink wine, ask questions, and enjoy the poetry. Definitely doing that again.

The result of these changes was another successful event! Here is the video of the livestream and photos of the poets:

  • Anna Weaver
  • Claudette Cohen
  • Angie Kirby
  • Cherryl Cooley
  • Lisa Zerkle

 


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Happy Double Life Anniversary!


anniversary

It’s been a year since Poet’s Double Life joined the blogosphere. A few quick stats (because that IS what I do): 95 posts over 3,000 views from over 20 countries! I’ve posted mostly about how I maintain the creative side while having a full-time career in the non-literary world. For me, it boils down to the three R’s:

1) Reading: Keeping the brain fed with other good writing is the primary way  I maintain my creative side. I’ve had several posts on the books that have found their way off the library shelves and into my hands.  I’m currently reading two books that came highly recommended: a young adult sci-fi novel, Ender’s Game, and a poetry collection by Carolyn Rodgers, How I Got Ovah. Reading helps me maintain inspiration, even when I have trouble writing.

2) (W)riting/Revision:  These two R’s go hand-in-hand. Having several writing spaces in the Triangle helps me find the necessary solitude to get my ideas on paper. Though I often carry my poet’s notebook, having an iPhone handy is another way I jot down ideas that come to me. Writing challenges and prompt, such as the November and April poem-a-day challenges push me to produce on a daily basis and have resulted in plenty of clay to shape into better poems. Critique groups also help improve my work by letting me understand how trusted readers hear my work.

3) Reach: I am true to myself as a poet when I am getting my poems out in the world. I attend at least one open mic in the Triangle each month to read poems and connect to other writers. This past year,I’ve taken the plunge into publication by submitting my work to various contests and literary journals and have been happy with the results (see Transit of Venus, Poetry in Plain Sight,  to name a few).

Thanks for taking time to follow my double life adventures. I appreciate your comments and support.


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Transit of Venus


Back in January I read my poem, “Transit of Venus,” as part of Poetry Scope, an event hosted by the NC Museum of Natural Sciences that featured  science-related poems. I submitted this poem to the Carolina Woman Magazine‘s Mighty Pens writing contest and won second place! The poem is featured in the magazine’s June issue:

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And here’s the second place prize, courtesy of Margo Froehlich of Brooke & Birdie Interior Design:

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Memorizing Poems


memorize

Every first Saturday, Living Poetry meets at Panera Bread in Brier Creek for our monthly poetry brunch. I love this event because it combines two things I love most: breakfast and poetry. Reading poems always leads to discussions about craft, what it means to be a poet, the relevance of poetry today, teaching, and whatever non sequiturs Don the Brunch brings up. Before I know it the two hours are up.

In the last year, the event has encouraged attendees to “bring a memorized poem”. And I am always up for THAT type of challenge. I grew up reciting lines in church plays and ready to spout off a bible verse whenever asked, even at the dining room table (Jesus wept). Lately, if I find a poem I love, I memorize it. Learning the lines and the exact order of words brings me closer to the poem—as if I am a mechanic looking under the hood of car, disassembling and reassembling the engine. I know I have to get the poet’s word choice and line breaks right in order to convey the same meaning and feeling to the listener.

To memorize a poem, I often start by writing it by hand, which puts me in the mindset of the poet who penned it. Then I read and repeat the first two lines until I know them well, add two more lines, and repeat the first four lines until I can say the block of words with ease. I find it much easier to memorize poems with stanzas and punctuation than one-sentence poems like my favorite from Jack Gilbert:

The Abandoned Valley

Can you understand being alone

so long you would go out in the middle of the night

and put a bucket into a well

so you could feel something down there

tug at the other end of the rope?

In addition to the Gilbert poem, I’ve memorized three other poems: Ego Tripping (There May Be a Reason Why) by Nikki Giovanni, Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden, and Topography by Sharon Olds. After the poetry brunch, I plan to add three more to my collection:

I love memorizing poems because you can carry them with you at all times—rattling around in my brain, tucked in a corner of my heart.


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After “One Love”


Last week on Valentine’s Day, over 2,200 14-word poems were handed out throughout the Triangle as part of the 14 Words, One Love event. I wrote over 40 poems in less than two weeks—and was ecstatic to learn we had surpassed our original goal by 800 poems!

And then I hit the wall. Runners often talk about the runner’s high—that rush of adrenalin that keeps them going during a marathon. The 14-word event definitely fed all the good poetic energy and reading and commenting on other people’s poems increased that positive vibe. That energy stayed with me throughout Valentine’s Day when I handed out poems to my office colleagues, distributed poems at an off-site meeting, and made special home deliveries to a few of my friends. But afterwards, I felt rung out like a worn rag. I couldn’t think about picking up a pen, let alone convincing my mind to conjure up an image to bring to life on the page.

That’s probably why it has taken two weeks to get back in the blog saddle. I had to re-group, feed the space that opened up after the “one love” was gone. So I turned to poetry books: first, to Rabindranath Tagore’s Final Poems, and then, to Sharon OldsSelected Poems. I spent time memorizing one of my favorite poems by Olds, “Topography,” which is now the fourth poem I know by heart (more on that later). Monday’s visual prompt for Living Poetry ended the drought.71752_518868581492385_1203357513_n

Danish “Heart Book”

Closed, it is a question
mark missing the finality
of the dot that holds
its fragile curve in place,
half of what it could be.

Opened, a great yearning
lives in the curlicue of each letter,
yellowed pages burdened by the black
ink of a centuries-old plea: for misery
to end and turn into good.

After that, two other poems I had jotted down in my journal and on my iPhone finally started to take shape on the page. Now I feel like I’m back on track.


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14 Words, One Love


For the last week, I’ve been supporting my fellow double-life poet, Jodi Barnes, in her effort to collect 1,400 14-word love poems to distribute on Valentine’s Day. The first day, I wrote one poem, but since then I’ve written no less than three poems each day and as many as six! The 14-word challenge has been a great way to build up to a daily writing practice, strengthen the mind-paper connection, and focus on crafting concrete imagery.

I’ve written a series of poems, “to understand love / you must understand <blank>,” where I fill in the blank with an object or concept and then find seven other words that both describe the object and the idea of love. Here are some examples:

to understand lovegenes

you must understand genes

their endless patterns

uniting, splicing, reforming, reborn

to understand lovedogs

you must understand dogs

waiting by doors, tails wagging

in anticipation

to understand love

you must understand rings

encircling delicate fingerssaturn_false

and all of Saturn

to understand love

you must understand teatea

slow sips of honey

warming your hands

I haven’t counted them yet, but I have three typed pages of the “to understand love” series, and about six 14-word free form poems. Every evening I come home eager to prepare the next day’s patch of poems, and every morning I wake up excited to post what I’ve written and watch the number count creep closer to the goal. Most importantly, I am having fun while supporting a worthwhile effort to spread love throughout the Triangle.

Try your hand at a 14-word love poem by leaving a comment.